All creative types at some point in their careers encounter the Look – that facial expression of disbelief (expresión de la cara) on others’ faces when one initially regards oneself as an artist. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of three separate but comical experiences where acquaintances who work primarily in the business world have tossed back that facial expression of utter disbelief when I was asked, “What do you do for a living?” We creatives have all seen it – some may choose to just rise above it and not react to it, while others (such as writers, for example) tend to parody experiences with it. The Look seems to be pervasive despite whatever point one’s attained in his/her art career: high-end, blue-chip established artists through emerging artists.
Not every creative experiences this. It seems to be purposely removed from academic settings such as graduate schools/MFA programs, university/art school faculty/teachers, or coveted artist residencies such as Arrowmont, Tennessee or Penland, North Carolina, or Vermont Studio Center. In many ways – the wisest move for an artist exiting academia is to apply for and obtain a residency somewhere still within this insular environment, away from the Look. One can grow his/her own body of work or experiment with new materials, not only in a supportive atmosphere but in the case of many craft artists – with a fully-equipped studio, chock-full of kilns, slab rollers, steel hammers, rolling mills, dies, bandsaws – without that costly expense to set up one’s own full-time studio.
I didn’t take that path. After receiving my second degree in Fine Arts/Metalsmithing, I decided to pay off those nagging student loans by working four years as a production jeweler and diamond setter. I decided that I wanted my own studio; my own walls in private where I could bang, hammer, chase, draw, think, sulk – and it wasn’t going to be a temporary situation that would end in a year or two. Working as a production jeweler allowed me to learn so many aspects of the jewelry trade, not to mention how to “work on the clock” with precisely-timed production pieces. Still, I was in an environment that was immune to the Look; peers, friends and others didn’t question my profession. Not even my then-accountant! With the growing advent of the dot.com boom, this evolved into working professionally as a graphic and multimedia designer at a Philadelphia software company. I bought a modest house and in small doses, began setting up my metals’ studio. I was unmarried at the time and living the “single-girl” dream (which honestly I did not find glamorous at all.) While my life took this path – I had the respect of my peer group, work colleagues and immediate friends. However, deep-down, I knew that making art, creating the one-of-kind jewelry pieces that I had begun while studying at Parsons and New Paltz in NY were what I really wanted to pursue creatively.
The next year, 2014, is already looking strong. I’m working towards the first solo exhibit of my “widget lockets”/ one-of-a-kind jewelry at a gallery in upstate New York. The only downfall: now that I’ve “opened up the floorboards to the attic”, those folks from my past are peering back up through the new openings in a once-concealed floor and thinking to themselves while unknowingly giving me the Look: “Is she out of her blasted mind!??” “Full-time studio artist in this economy?”